SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


School Districts Will Pilot Ideas for Publicly Funded Preschools
By Larry LeDoux, Alaska Education Commissioner


April 25, 2009

Giving our children high-quality care from birth to age 6 is one of the best ways we can prepare them for success at school -- and throughout their lives. The Palin administration will help more Alaska parents achieve this level of care, whether their children are at home or in preschools.

We are grateful that the Alaska State Legislature approved the Governor's request for $2 million to fund a pilot program of preschools that would be operated by school districts. The department is preparing its request for proposals by which districts will seek grants.

Publicly funded preschool is not a new idea, and it has benefited children elsewhere in the United States. Two-thirds of the states offer publicly funded preschool to at least part of their young population. Publicly funded preschool is an investment that pays off in successful students and more productive adults.

In the pilot we hope to serve up to 500 children, mostly four-year-olds, in a half-day program during the school year before they enter kindergarten. The programs would offer age-appropriate opportunities for learning and socializing, health screenings, and nutritious meals.

Additionally, the pilot programs will support parents -- both those who enroll their children at child care centers and those who educate their young children at home. The school districts, for example, could provide library and other educational materials or home visits similar to "parents as teachers" programs.

It is important to emphasize that the pilot's purpose is not to replace Head Starts or private child care centers. There would be no point spending public money to duplicate services.

The pilot has four purposes: to serve children who are not now being served by preschools; to help parents who want more guidance in educating their young children at home; to form partnerships that would strengthen existing providers; and to try out different ways of achieving quality care.

We anticipate that some of the pilots will be formed in communities that do not have private day care centers or Head Starts. In communities that have existing day care options, we anticipate that many pilot school districts will partner with Head Starts or private providers. The pilot preschool teachers might provide services at those institutions, not at schools. That would be a "one-stop-shopping" convenience for parents.

In preparing this pilot, we brought together Alaska experts in early education, including providers from the private sector. This committee gave us wise recommendations on how to operate the pilot. Among their ideas that we embrace: Participating school districts should form strong partnerships with existing providers; don't let the pilot undermine the private sector; and let local applicants decide what their community's needs are and how to meet them.

Because one of the goals is to let local school districts and their partners try out various ideas, the Department of Education & Early Development will manage the pilot with flexibility. Another purpose of the pilot is to serve more children. It would make no sense for the pilot to cause a reduction in the number of children served by existing providers.

The fundamental issue is what is best for Alaska's children. Head Start has a long waiting list. Some parents cannot afford private child care. There are children who now go unserved.

Several years ago, Alaska's early educators -- from tribes, school districts, the private sector, the state and the university -- created exceptionally well-thought-out early learning guidelines. The pilot preschools would allow Alaskans from diverse communities, working under varying conditions, to figure out how to bring those guidelines to life throughout our state.

Alaska's preschool pilot is a step in the right direction of preparing children for success at school and in life after school.

Larry LeDoux
Alaska Education Commissioner

Received April 24 , 2009 - Published April 25, 2009


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